Knuckle Sandwich plops you into the fictional, pixelated Australian island of Bright City, where you play a young man in need of employment. In your quest to find a job, you are roped into solving numerous mysteries, ranging from the governmental, to the cultish, to the inter-dimensional. The only way you’re making a living here, or receiving ‘fortune rocks’, is to decipher environmental puzzles and engage in frenetic mini-game-based battles.
The town, its inhabitants, and the creatures you meet are visually stunning. The art and animations of the game are rendered in 2D pixel-style (with the occasional special 3D) and although players have seen this style countless times, it is absolutely unique and iconic in this instance. The pixels are lush, vibrant, and are complimented by a whimsically weird and stylish soundtrack.
Where Knuckle Sandwich shines brightest is in its designs, particularly the enemies and mini-games. Each foe comes preloaded with their own distinct mini-game attacks and their coolness is accentuated by animations which are a joy to watch. In one moment you are battling Apple Bat by shooting apples off heads, the next you are brushing teeth, driving down highways, and dodging attacks from, my personal favourite, Nut Alien.
However, I was not prepared for this game to knuckle-sandwich me at every turn. Like an idiot, I assumed an association between this type of art style and the feel of a cosy game, which made Knuckle Sandwich’s difficulty level surprising…I would go as far as to describe it as anti-cosy; drawing on charming visuals and placid RPG tropes only to lock you into gruelling battles that require a whole lot of attention, skill, and adaptability. Even outside of battle sequences players often must stay engaged to keep up with a plot that moves along quickly.
I spent much of my time in Bright City frustrated and unconfident in my gaming skills and beating a boss after the tenth attempt was like relieving a pressure valve in my skull. Although I felt personally bullied by this game that is not to say it won’t appeal to plenty of players who may enjoy the feeling of being pranked constantly.
The necessity to perish a lot to learn your foes and the structure of a battle is not uncommon in RPG-land, but it felt particularly punishing in this context. The emphasis seems to be on fun and variety rather than having to grind, however classic tactics like buffing your stats, stocking up on the right items, and assigning the appropriate weapons to your characters is essential to winning. Additionally, having accuracy and speed in mini-games is important but even when successful it doesn’t always lead to desired effects.
To counter the intensity of the gameplay mechanics, the plot itself is quite simple and silly, pulling from a variety of common stories with some neat twists here and there. It subscribes to a sense of humour that is charming, snarky, and digestible, but the funniest moments often come from the animations and their comedic timing. The characters and their dialogues are not incredibly distinct from each other (aside from Brightside who is the breakout star) so the rare emotional moments didn’t hit quite as hard. Altogether, there weren’t enough robust narrative elements to keep me invested besides wanting to see how the story ends.
The other way to look at Knuckle Sandwich is as a beautifully crafted love letter to all the things that have inspired its creator, Andy Brophy. Brophy has not only paid homage to RPGs but has placed it in an Australian setting, creating an authentically novel experience. The little nods to RPG history and Australian living are evidence of the designs doing all the heavy lifting, but nevertheless create a sense of intimacy.
Players may spot a cricket set in the park, a red postie box, go to the chippy which sells both minimum and maximum chips (and yes, these can be used in battle). A character might drop a ‘mate’ or a ‘youse’ but not so much that it becomes hammy. The references to RPGs, especially Pokémon, also make for special moments. Empty bins are strewn around the island for players to instinctively mine for items (when prompted, some of the bins respond “no”), and sliding floor puzzles will remind some players of just how long they’ve been playing video games.
I have used the word charming often here to describe Knuckle Sandwich, and it really is, but more so in that secretly evil way that brightly coloured mushrooms are. To call it anti-cosy is not a diss to anyone except myself, as I haven’t found a better way to say I feel tricked while still following up with an Ah, you got me! In this moment I can’t fathom playing it again, but it wouldn’t shock me to suddenly get the urge months from now. The experience simply sticks to you, all parts stunning and frustrating.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Andy Brophy
- Andy Brophy / SUPERHOT PRESENTS
- November 23, 2023